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Want To Grill Like A Zillionaire? There's An App For That

The iGrill on display at Macworld 2011in San Francisco.
Tony Avelar
Bloomberg via Getty Images
The iGrill on display at Macworld 2011in San Francisco.

There are so many cooking apps out there, it's easy to get lost. Good thing the iGrill has Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on its side.

Sales of the $80 device spiked by 400 percent after Zuckerberg updated his Facebook status on Aug. 19 with an enthusiastic thumbs up for the iGrill, a cooking thermometer that uses Bluetooth to connect to the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

/ Screen shot from Facebook
Screen shot from Facebook

That caught our attention here at The Salt, where we're all for enhancing food safety. After testing our review copy of the iGrill, it's safe to say: We value Zuckerberg's advice — when it comes to social media. But cooking apps? You be the judge.

As we've reported before, very few Americans actually use thermometers — even though food safety experts say they're a good idea to ensure that foods reach the temperatures needed to kill scary pathogens.

So we were intrigued by the surge of interest in the iGrill, which is designed to let home cooks wander up to 200 feet away from the oven or grill, then send an alert to their smart device when the food is done.

Anything that gets Americans using food thermometers on a regular basis is probably a good thing. And the iGrill is an undeniably cool concept. It consists of a digital thermometer about the same height but about a third wider than an iPhone. The device comes with one metal probe, though you can purchase a second probe ($15) and use both at once to monitor two different meats.

The iGrill app download is free (there are two versions; we tried out the newer one.) After installation, you follow the directions to pair up the thermometer with your device's Bluetooth connection (we used an iPhone), select the temperature for your meat, fish or poultry, and voila! You're off grilling.

At least, that's what's supposed to happen. In practice, that Bluetooth connection turned out to be a real iHeadache.

The first time I used the iGrill, it took a little time to set up the Bluetooth pairing — not surprising, since I was just familiarizing myself with the process. Once paired, the iGrill performed as advertised: I stuck the probe into a steak, slapped it on a George Foreman grill (it was wet outside), and then walked away from the kitchen. Several minutes later, an alarm went off on my iPhone alerting me my meat was done. It came out perfectly medium well.

So I expected my second go to be easy peasy. But when I turned on the iGrill at a family cookout, the Bluetooth connection wouldn't work. It took a good 20 minutes to find out what was wrong and fix it. This appears to be a known bug: As the iGrill's FAQ explains, sometimes you need to force the device to re-pair with the iPhone by removing the batteries and going through the setup process again. The manufacturer, iDevices, says such Bluetooth woes occur about 5 percent of the time when first using the iGrill; other online reviewers seem to have run into similar problems.

Alas, by the time I'd finished troubleshooting, the sides I'd prepared had gone cold, and I'd barely had a chance to speak to my dinner companions — not quite the "multitask between your grill or oven and guests" experience promised.

That said, when the iGrill works, it "delivers a high 'geek factor' experience," as "Consumer Reports" notes — so it might be just the thing for the gadget lover with a little cash to burn. I'd guess Zuckerberg falls into this category — and if you do, too, you can get free domestic shipping on an iGrill by using the code ZUCK at checkout.

Or you could save yourself some money and use the iPhone-based technique that my father-in-law, a gadget-hound himself, employed on his burgers while he watched me try to tame the iGrill. Set the timer on your phone to remind you when to check on your food, and when the alarm goes off, head back outside and insert a good old digital thermometer.

Tell us: What's your favorite cooking app?

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Maria Godoy is a senior science and health editor and correspondent with NPR News. Her reporting can be heard across NPR's news shows and podcasts. She is also one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.